Recently, in coordination with New York Congressman Paul Tonko, the Rockefeller Institute hosted the Locally Sourced Capital Region Climate Policy conference, which examined ways local governments and organizations within New York’s capital region are addressing climate change through policy and practice. As part of the Rockefeller Institute’s ongoing look at municipal solutions to improving our climate and environmental sustainability, Carm Basile, CEO of the Capital District Transit Authority (CDTA) and a panelist during the Locally Sourced conference, joins the podcast to detail what programs and initiatives CDTA is embarking on that help reduce the regional carbon footprint by increasing access to and use of public transportation, as well as reduce its own carbon footprint by increasing green transit infrastructure.


Carm Basile, CEO, Capital District Transit Authority

Learn More:

Locally Sourced Capital Region Climate Policy | An Integrated Approach to Zero Emissions, Carm Basile, CEO, Capital District Transit Authority

Locally Sourced Capital Region Climate Policy | Entire Conference

  • Transcript

    Transcript was generated using AI software and may contain errors.

    Alexander Morse  00:03

    Hey there, and welcome to Policy Outsider presented by the Rockefeller Institute of Government. I’m Alex Morse. Recently, in collaboration with New York Congressman Paul Tonko, the Rockefeller Institute hosted the Locally Sourced Capital Region Climate Policy conference, which examined ways local governments and organizations within New York’s capital region are addressing climate change through policy and practice. Carm Basile, CEO of the Capital District Transit Authority, CDTA, for short, was a panelist during the Locally Sourced conference, and as part of our ongoing look at municipal solutions to improving our climate and environmental sustainability, Carm joins today’s podcast to detail what programs and initiatives CDTA is embarking on to help reduce the regional carbon footprint by increasing access to and use of public transportation, as well as reduce its own carbon footprint by increasing green transit infrastructure. Coming up next. Since transportation is such a large source of greenhouse gas emissions, we thought there’s no one better to talk about the work public transit authorities are doing to help reduce our carbon footprint than the CEO of the Capital District Transit Authority. So to start Carm, pretty broadly, what is CDTA doing and planning to help reduce reliance on fossil fuels and reach our climate goals?


    Carm Basile  01:37

    Well, thanks, Alex. That’s a that’s a big question. Right. And rather than look only at recent legislation, I think you really need to talk about, or we need to talk about our mission. And really, our mission is to reduce greenhouse gas, sorry, but by encouraging our community to embrace us and what we do, that is sort of an everyday mission. People want to know, okay, what are you doing  in the in the green world. What we’re doing most recently, has been the toe dip with electric vehicles. And I say toe dip. Because right now we have eight electric vehicles, we’ll have probably closer to two dozen by this time next year. But that’s still you know, as a percentage of our fleet, maybe a big toe dip. That project that work is going well, it is not without issues. But these aren’t major issues that can’t be resolved. What we need to do is really focus on our infrastructure. What does it take to keep those buses charged and ready to go? And, you know, that’s, that’s a place that our industry is at, right now. We’re all moving in that direction. But it’s going to be a long road, it’s not going to be a tomorrow sort of thing. But every year, you will see us get either more electrified or more, something other than diesel, that’s for sure.


    Alexander Morse  03:07

    Sure. Yeah. Let’s talk about the infrastructure that is required to build out this electric fleet. When did CDTA start beginning its electric bus line? When did that? When did that first bus hit the service routes?


    Carm Basile  03:19

    We’re going back now about four years. But really, the planning for that began probably six or seven years ago. A lot of that is where our industry is because we on this one, we can’t be alone, right? You know, you need you need the vehicle manufacturers, you need the people who who plan and build the infrastructure in a perfect world to be ahead of us, rather than we can’t be ahead of that, or it just doesn’t work that way. So our industry is moving along. The west coast was was really first in line in that regard. And now I think the east coast, northeast part of the country is coming along there. And the issue for us the big issue, or in addition to the infrastructure and infrastructure development, is how electric buses, react, operate, or manage on a daily morning, like this morning, there were parts of our region that were under 20 degrees. That is where things change for us. So we go from about a 250 mile range down to about 125 mile range on a charge. So that is really the issue that we’re working through. How do you manage it? And when you’re only dipping your toe in and you have eight or 10 vehicles, it’s not a big deal. But when you have the majority of your fleet, it will be a big deal and how you manage that, accomodate for that. Literally half a range is going to be our issue moving forward.


    Alexander Morse  04:47

    And so I suspect that it’d be a real management challenge of trying to build out the charging infrastructure to make sure that you have enough buses hitting the routes. I I suspect that you’d have to, if you’re saying you’re going to lose 50% of your range, you probably need double the buses.


    Carm Basile  05:00

    Well, that is that’s a simple maths right? So right, today, we lose half our range, we need twice as many vehicles to operate today. That’s not an acceptable answer to the problem, right. So that that is what we’re working through right now. How would you do that? How do you you can’t have doubled the fleet for the winter? That doesn’t make any sense. So…


    Alexander Morse  05:20

    Right, that’s not feasible.


    Carm Basile  05:21

    Yeah, we’re just working through a bunch of scenarios here. And really, it’s how the how the service network is structured. You know, maybe maybe, we’re not going to be 100% electric five years from now, maybe we’re going to be 80% electric and those 20% of the vehicles, you know, are sort of articulated buses, for example, you know, they’ll help there but they’re not they’re not electric just yet. So we’re playing around with a bunch of different scenarios.


    Alexander Morse  05:45

    Yeah, and to cover those service routes. CDTA is based out of Albany, New York, but it provides services across the entire capital region, and that includes six different counties. We have Albany County, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectady, Montgomery, and based on your on your Locally Sourced presentation, you’re soon to be adding Warren County. Put that perspective, what’s the total mileage of this entire region?


    Carm Basile  06:07

    Well, the footprint is over 3000 square miles that you just outlined, we operate out you said out of Albany, that’s correct. We’re headquartered in Albany. But we have facilities and Troy a facility in Schenectady. Soon we’ll have a facility in Glens Falls. So the infrastructure, let’s call it the electrification really needs to be done strategically, what is right now, the only one of those facilities that is even remotely electrified is Albany. Most naturally, only because of our partnership with National Grid, most naturally, for us, the second facility to be electrified or replaced, is going to be Schenectady. And then we’ll move from there. So you’ve just added another curve and into the, into the plan, you know, how do you how do you get to that level?


    Alexander Morse  06:54

    Yeah, it’s a pretty sizable region, and just invites a lot of managerial challenges. And we talked about planning this infrastructure for electric vehicles or even just service delivery in general. Who are other stakeholders that are involved? You mentioned National Grid, is it the local governments, I assume, are their other partners in this are trying to develop the most efficient way of service?


    Carm Basile  07:17

    Yeah, the big partners are the federal government, Federal Transit Administration, key funder, New York State another key funder, supporter, collaborator. Certainly National Grid, the provider  The bus manufacturers, the industry, and then, you know, lots of sort of further down the list, but people that we work with planners, consultants, engineers, people who provide infrastructure components, but but the big four or five are federal, the federal government, the state government, the vehicle manufacturers, National Grid, and ourselves. You know, it’s a work in progress. And frankly, I think it’s going pretty well, slower than I thought it would be. You know if asked me three years ago, I thought we’d be further along. And we’re also looking at things like hydrogen.


    Alexander Morse  08:08



    Carm Basile  08:09

    You know, it’s really zero emissions, not electrification. So after the first five minutes, you and I’ve been talking about electrification, we’ve kind of changed the title of this and the narrative to be zero emissions, basically, to allow us to pivot to what might be out there as we move along that either can run in tandem, or at some point, maybe it replaces.


    Alexander Morse  08:32

    I think that flexibility and innovation is key to helping reach our climate goals.


    Carm Basile  08:37

    Agreed. Let’s not go down one road just, you know, block ourselves from all other possibilities, that might be as good or better.


    Alexander Morse  08:45

    Right. So one of the goals of CDTA is to increase ridership that helps reduce the reliance on individual cars and other forms of emissions producing transportation. And we mentioned that there’s a very large region to cover. So how does this regional approach represent an important model for increasing public transportation as a whole? And what can we learn from this model? Are other cities in the state doing something similar to CDTA?


    Carm Basile  09:09

    You know, the answer to that is a qualified yes. In our region. You know, the first time in 50 years we we’ve been around for 51 years. Our expansion west to Montgomery County, which happened last year, was the first time the service area has been expanded. It had been four counties for 50 years. We added the fifth county last year. Now it really gets us to the City of Amsterdam first, and then then it moves us west. Montgomery County is if you look at it on a map, it’s an east-west topography, but really is to take care of the City of Amsterdam first and then move west. Our move north now into Warren County is first to merge in the City of Glens Falls. It’s Glens Falls Queensberry Lake George. So a small part of Warren County to start. So this is really an urban game that we’re playing and then connecting the urban areas. That’s not to say that we’re ignoring the rural parts of those service areas. It’s where it makes most sense for us first.


    Alexander Morse  10:14

    So let’s stick with ridership or another question here. What are your ridership numbers look like and how does that compare to before the pandemic, where ridership probably cratered during that time?


    Carm Basile  10:25

    Yeah. And it’s funny, I was just looking at some notes this morning. And it’s go back to the end of our, our fiscal year, it is April one through March 31. We run the same as the state state fiscal year. So I went back and look at our all time ridership high, which was March 31, ’16, encompassing that the 12 months prior was 17 million. It kind of came down the next couple of years, you know, slightly. :ots of reasons could be, frankly, a change of 100,000 doesn’t mean much, but March of ’21, sort of after the first year of the pandemic, we were just under 10 million. So we went from 17 million, down to about 10 million. That drop mainly is the pandemic. And then we started sort of the upward climb. March of ’22, it had risen to about 11 million. March ’23, we were up pushing 14 million. And year to date already year to date, we’re just under 10 million. And we project that this year will finish at 16 million probably a little bit more. Righnow we are more than 100% of where we were before the pandemic began. So we’re back to where we were before the pandemic started. And we projected it this year, maybe one of our better ridership years in the last 10.


    Alexander Morse  11:52

    Well, that’s really encouraging news that the the trend line is going is in a positive direction. Where are those numbers coming from? And how are they accessing those services?


    Carm Basile  12:03

    Yeah, ridership is back. But where it’s back, it’s a little different than what it was four or five, three or four years ago, much more urban, much more major corridor. BRT driven, we just introduced our third bus rapid transit line. Believe it or not, bus rapid transit lines will probably account – corridors – not just the routes, those corridors, because there’s several routes on those corridors, will will account for about 50% of all of our ridership by the end of this year. So it’s urban based. It’s also flatter. Our ridership used to be very peak oriented. So AM peak, you know, spike up, come down midday. PM peak, spike up, come down during the evening. A much flatter line now. I think that accounts or accommodates different work commute patterns. People travel now all the time. They decide when they’re going to travel. So those spikes are much less pronounced than they used to be.


    Alexander Morse  13:03

    That’s interesting. I wonder if that’s a representation of the changing working dynamics, whether it’s work from home or hybrid or whatever it might look like.


    Carm Basile  13:10

    It is. It’s also the changing face of our ridership. It’s spread out a little more evenly now among people going to work. People going to school, namely colleges. We we’ve we partnered with every college and university in the region, every one of them two year four year has some sort of relationship with us. So it’s it’s workers, it’s school colleges. High schools, we now partner with more school districts than we used to. And the way we done this, people can use our services. If people partner with us, they can use our services anytime, not just during those peak commute times. So we’ve spread the partnerships out and the partnerships have spread the ridership up.


    Alexander Morse  13:57

    In addition to bus ridership. CDTA has implemented opportunities for multimodal transportation, such as its bicycle rental program and car share programs. Can you expand on why providing the services is important to the community and how it can simultaneously reduce reliance on emission producing forms of transportation?


    Carm Basile  14:18

    Yeah, we’ve taken a unique approach Alex to this, and a lot of other cities that are independent companies that operate bike share, car shares, and other forms of mobility. Our approach is if it has wheels and it moves, we want to manage it, because we want to we want to closely integrate it with the rest of our services. So we’ve been operating our bike share program now for several years at year over year. Ridership continues to increase more bikes, more use. This year we introduced pedal assist bikes, e-bikes, extremely popular with all age groups. It’s not just It’s an older age group, because it’s just the like, for example, you’re going to try to get up the hill in Albany, near the bottom of the hill, it’s a heck of a lot easier to use an e-bike and it is to pedal.


    Alexander Morse  15:05

    Yeah, Albany residents know exactly what hill you’re talking about.


    Carm Basile  15:07

    Yup or Troy. You know, Troy has very steep hill to get, and one of our big partners is RPI. And RPI was one of the first of our partners to integrate bikes into our arrangement, so that their students, faculty and staff, have access to bikes. Cars, our most recent add, I would still say that that’s a pilot. But we expect to expand that throughout the region in the near future, because the least a small pilot that we’ve operated has been very successful. And we’re operating an on demand pilot called Flex, which is, you know, basically CDTA’s version of Uber, you download the app, you put it on your phone, it’s in a very tightly organized service area, so that we can control the pilots geofence. But both of those pilots, we have one in Albany County ones, one in Saratoga County, doing very well, we’re going to introduce a different sort of Flex pilot that will connect the rail station in Rennselaer with downtown Albany and be very tightly geofence. And we’re gonna link Amtrak schedules into the app, so that if you’re traveling up from the city, if you want to book a ride to your hotel, or the state capitol, let’s just say, you’ll be able to do that it’ll be a very seamless operation.


    Alexander Morse  16:22

    It’s a very thoughtful and thorough approach of trying to connect the points of interest where there’s going to be a lot of commuter traffic.


    Carm Basile  16:30

    We want to manage those things. We don’t want them to be independent of us not to say that that can’t work. But we think the chances for success or if we can integrate those.


    Alexander Morse  16:40

    Yeah, let’s talk about that management for a moment. What are some of the you kind of highlighted some of the benefits there about having it all into your portfolio? What are some of the challenges of overseeing that kind of portfolio?


    Carm Basile  16:51

    Listen, one of the biggest challenges is, all of these things are have now have technology, a technology component. And that’s the biggest struggle right now we have a great fare payment system, we have a great information platform. But right now, they’re all different. You know, those things that we just rattled off, have different payment and information platforms. So that’s unacceptable. On the management problem now is moving towards one platform, make it seamless, make it seamless, and I guess I’m critical of our us and our management, but, you know, this is something that everyone is struggling with, and no one has it right. There are some some European models that are that are much better. And that’s sort of what we’re shooting at. But I would say within two years, we’re going to be much better off than we are today.


    Alexander Morse  17:47

    Now during your presentation. And correct me if I didn’t catch this. CDTA is the only entity in the state that manages its own multimodal forms of transportation. Is that correct?


    Carm Basile  17:58

    Yeah, I’ve got to be very careful there. But yeah, yeah, it’s true.


    Alexander Morse  18:02

    Are you working with other city transportation services like Syracuse or Buffalo or even New York City to try to either replicate models or learn from them? Is it is it kind of an organism type approach to learning?


    Carm Basile  18:14

    Yeah, listen, we’re not bashful about borrowing a good idea. And I would hope, and I know that people, west of us, south of us, whatever direction, right, aren’t bashful about borrowing our idea, and we talk all the time, or a member of a state association, there really no secrets, our industry, and there’s no reason for a secret to be had. Because if it’s good, if it’s good for our customers, it’s good for our community, we ought to be investigating.


    Alexander Morse  18:49

    I like that what’s good for the customers is good for the community. So looking ahead, what’s next for CDTA? What are some new initiatives that we might not have covered in this conversation that you’re excited about?


    Carm Basile  18:53

    Well, we are building out what we talked about. We will merge the greater Glens Falls transit system into CDTA first week of January, that’s when it’ll become official. We’re building towards that. So that’s a new venture, a new community. And really, when you do that, it’s all about learning the community and understanding what the community expects from us, and then finding ways to bring the community and CDTA together. That’s our model. That’s how we do things. It would be ill advised of us just to go in there. Merge Glens Falls into CDTA and say, this is how we do it. Be ill advised. So what we do is, we’ll spend a lot of time in the community, getting to understand the community, get to know them, and have them know us and our capabilities. So that will be an interesting few months there for us. We want to continue expanding car share. We expect to double the inventory on car share, hopefully in 2024 We’ll continue to expand e-bikes, and then we’re looking at bus rapid transit. We completed our goal of introducing three lines, 40 miles. But is there another corridor in our region that warrants consideration for bus rapid transit line. And we’re finalizing some work with a consultant on that, a consultant team. It remains to be seen if there’s further expansion. And then, you know, lastly, really where we started, zero emissions and continue the development of what that looks like for CDTA as we move forward, is it is it all electric? Is it partial electric? Is it, is is you know what, what propulsion is in our future.


    Alexander Morse  20:35

    I appreciate all the work that you’re doing to make what’s good for the customer good for the community, to borrow a line from you. Carm Basile, CEO of the Capital District Transit Authority. Thank you for joining us today.


    Carm Basile  20:47

    Thank you, Alex. Great being with you.


    Alexander Morse  20:52

    Thanks again to Carm Basile, CEO of the Capital District Transit Authority for taking the time with us to talk about the importance of identifying and implementing means of public transit across a variety of modes in an effort to green the community. If you want to hear more from Carm on CDTA’s planning for the green world. You can check out his presentation at the Rockefeller Institute’s Locally Sourced Capital Region Climate Policy conference on our YouTube channel, a link is in the episode description. Interested in more policy and practice work municipalities and local organizations are doing to improve their climate and environmental portfolio, including innovative approaches to electric generation, transportation, and buildings? Check out our entire Locally Sourced Capital Region Climate Policy conference on our YouTube channel. A link to the video is also available in the episode description. If you liked this episode, please rate, subscribe, and share. It will help others find the podcast and help us deliver the latest in public policy research. All of our episodes are available for free wherever you stream your podcasts and transcripts are available on our website. Special thanks to Rockefeller Institute Laura Rabinow and Heather Trela for their contributions to this episode. Thanks for listening. I’m Alex Morse. Until next time.


    Alexander Morse  22:34


    Policy Outsider is presented by the Rockefeller Institute of Government, the public policy research arm of the State University of New York. The Institute conducts cutting edge nonpartisan public policy research and analysis to inform lasting solutions to the challenges facing New York State and the nation. Learn more at or by following at Rockefeller inst. That’s Rockefeller i n s t on social media. Have a question comment or idea? Email us at [email protected]

Policy Outsider

Policy Outsider” from the Rockefeller Institute of Government takes you outside the halls of power to understand how decisions of law and policy shape our everyday lives.

Listen to a full episode archive on Anchor, or subscribe on your preferred podcast platform.